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Advanced driving aids, semi-autonomous tech, and drive-by-wire systems remain all the rage among automotive OEMs, and much of that technology can be directly traced to its origins in auto racing. The trickle-down of this tech means today's racing games are more realistic than ever. Nowhere is this more evident than in hyper-realistic sim racing.
The beauty of sim racing lies in accessibility; anyone with the desire and a few hundred bucks can get a sim racing rig in their home and realistically race virtual versions of legendary racetracks worldwide. Professional drivers have been training with sim racing rigs for years, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we even saw the growth of eNASCAR events.
A huge range of sim racing equipment exists out there, from simple wheel-and-pedal setups that you can use on a tabletop to full-on professional-grade motion racing simulators that can cost as much as $100K. Whether you're a casual gamer or an aspiring Jann Mardenborough looking to shave tenths off your lap times at a virtual Sebring, there's a sim racing rig that's just right for you.
There are a few key pieces you need to build your own sim racing setup at home, so we've put together this list of essentials. Sim racing rigs can be a slippery slope, so we've provided both a high-end option and a more budget-friendly alternative for each piece to get you out on the virtual track while staying within your budget.
Just as with a real car, in your sim racing setup the steering wheel serves as the primary connection between you and the "vehicle." A high-quality racing wheel delivers accurate road feedback, enhancing the authenticity of your experience. To achieve optimal precision, select a steering wheel with a robust motor capable of transmitting palpable feedback. Top-tier options often include separate wheel bases and steering wheels, enabling further customization of your setup.
Attuned drivers know well how important pedals are. Spacing, materials, feedback, and adjustability are some factors that can transform a driving experience—for better or worse. Choosing the right pedals for your sim setup is also critical. And, as is the case with the other parts of your prospective sim setup, there's a range of options out there.
Monitors and Screens
While any computer monitor or TV will get the job done, a high-quality computer monitor will provide immersive visuals, allowing you to feel as though you're actually behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle. When selecting a monitor for sim racing, it's important to consider specifications such as refresh rate, resolution, response time, and screen size, as these elements contribute to a smooth and realistic driving experience.
If you have the dough and really want to up the ante, multi-monitor setups or ultra-wide displays can enhance immersion by offering a wider field of view, capturing the peripheral vision typically experienced in actual racing scenarios. Ultimately, the right monitor setup can significantly elevate your sim racing experience, bridging the gap between the virtual and real-world experience.
Pre-built Gaming PC
While plenty of titles are available for PlayStation and Xbox, the highest-quality sim racing experience will require a PC. PCs not only allow you to better customize your visual experience across monitors and VR headsets but also run more realistic sim racing games, such as iRacing and rFactor 2, neither of which are available on consoles.
The cockpit serves as the base for your sim rig, and while they aren't necessary for novices, they are pretty crucial if you intend to build a solid and stable sim setup. These rigs serve as the bones of your setup, allowing you to completely customize your rig. They are typically compatible with most of the major brands of wheels, pedals, shifters, monitors, and even aftermarket seats.
Things to Consider When Setting Up Your SIM Rig
Make sure the wheel you choose is compatible with your gaming platform, whether it's PC, Xbox, PlayStation, or others.
Size and Ergonomics
The size and shape of the wheel should match your hands and driving style. Choose a wheel that is comfortable to hold and has customizable options such as wheel diameter and pedal angle.
Feedback and Force
The force feedback and vibration should provide a realistic driving experience, which can only be achieved through accurate feedback and force. Look for features such as smooth and precise feedback, strong and crisp force reactions, and realistic resistance.
Sim racing wheels can be quite expensive, so it's important to find one that fits within your budget while still offering the features you desire.
Brand and Warranty
Choose a reputable brand that provides a warranty for its product, giving you a sense of security and reassurance.
Reading reviews from other users can give you an idea of the quality and performance of a wheel, as well as any potential issues that you may need to consider.
Justin Helton is an avid automobile collector and gearhead from New York City.
Gannon Burgett loves cameras, cars, and coffee: a perfect combination for his Hearst Autos work. His byline has appeared in USA Today, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Digital Trends, the Detroit Free Press, and more.
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